GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – A Hamas leader asked the international community on Monday not to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority, insisting the money would go toward helping the Palestinian people and Hamas was willing to have its spending monitored.
Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader in Gaza, also said the Islamic militant group is ready to negotiate the terms of continued foreign aid with donor countries.
He spoke ahead of Monday's meeting of the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators — the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia — to discuss the repercussions of Hamas' election victory. The United States and European nations have said they will cut off aid to a Hamas-led government unless the group recognizes Israel, renounces violence and adheres to interim peace deals with Israel.
Hamas shocked Western observers by winning a majority of seats in last week's parliamentary elections, giving it the right to form the next Palestinian government. The U.S., Europe and Israel list Hamas as a terrorist organization.
Western donors funneled about $900 million into the Palestinian Authority in 2005 — including $400 million from the United States — to pay salaries and finance desperately needed infrastructure projects. Failure to pay the 137,000 people on the Palestinian Authority payroll could lead to massive layoffs and ignite violence in an area bristling with guns.
Some Palestinian officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the volatile situation, have cautioned that the Palestinian Authority could collapse if the outside support were to dry up.
On Sunday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ruled out any U.S. financial aid to a Hamas government. But she indicated the Bush administration would follow through on aid promised to the current, U.S.-backed Palestinian government led by President Mahmoud Abbas, who was elected separately last year.
At the beginning of a short visit to Israel, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday that she would be watching what Hamas does. "If Hamas does not change its positions, it would be unthinkable for the EU or Germany, bilaterally, to support the autonomy government with money, as we do today." Merkel visits the West Bank on Monday.
Haniyeh urged the West to reconsider cutting off aid, saying it must recognize the result of the Palestinian election. He also said the money would be spent to help the Palestinian people in their daily lives and that Hamas was willing to discuss means of keeping the spending transparent.
"We in Hamas are ready to meet and have an open dialogue with the Quartet," he told a news conference in Gaza City. "We assure you that all the money will be spent under your supervision."
A senior Hamas official in Lebanon, however, brushed aside warnings that Western aid to the Palestinians could dry up. "Cutting off funds now will be a punishment of the Palestinian people, not of Hamas," said Mohammed Nazzal, member of Hamas' decision-making political bureau, which is based in Syria.
"If the European Union countries and the American administration see this as a means that could lead to a change in Hamas' strategic position then they are dreaming and are mistaken. Hamas will never accept that," he said in an interview with Al-Arabiya TV.